Benefits of small-scale farming (2023)

Benefits of smallholder farming

By Peter M. Rosset

For more than a century, leading economists in both capitalist and socialist countries confidently and enthusiastically predicted the end of the small family farm. Small farms have been repeatedly labeled as backward, unproductive and inefficient, an obstacle to be overcome in the process of economic development. The American model of large-scale mechanized corporate agriculture is presented as the best, if not the only, way to efficiently feed the world's population.

Whether smallholdings are worth preserving, whether indeed a smallholding model of rural development makes more sense than the large-scale, mechanized, chemical-intensive, business-dominated, socially exclusive model for which business is usual, so now is the time to act. The first point worth noting is that while small farmers have been driven out of rural America by the millions and we have seen similar, albeit smaller, rural-urban migration in the Third World, the fact is that family farmers still persist in the region. US and continue to be numerically dominant. In the Third World they are essential for the production of staple foods. The prediction of their demise remains premature, although their numbers have declined substantially and they face new threats to their livelihoods on an unprecedented scale.

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The second point is that small farms are nowhere near as unproductive or inefficient as many would have us believe. Peasants doggedly clung to the land, despite more than a century of harsh policies that undermined its economic viability.

The third point is that small rural properties have multiple functions that benefit both society and the biosphere, and that contribute much more than a given product. These multiple and beneficial roles need to be valued and seriously considered before we happily accept another round of anti-small farm policies, this time at the level of the global economy.

I'm not the only one who talks about the value of small properties and calls for a policy change to take advantage of their potential dynamism. The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Small Farms Commission released a landmark report in 1998 titled "It's Time to Act." What the USDA calls the public value of small farms includes: Diversity; environmental benefits; Community empowerment and responsibility; Places for families; Personal connection with food; and Economic Fundamentals. The USDA Commission is calling for a change in policies that have favored large, corporate-style farms for so long, at terrible cost to rural communities and the environment.

To address today's challenges in agriculture, we need to approach agriculture and land in a broader context, integrating multiple roles (economic, food production, nature and land management, employment, etc.). Sustainable agriculture and land use is not just a means of obtaining more food and income in socially acceptable ways that do not degrade the environment. Instead, it has a global impact on communities, environments and consumers. Sustainable land use is an opportunity to improve the quality of the environment, including its physical (greater soil fertility, better air and water quality), biological (healthier and more diverse animal, plant and human populations) aspects. and social. , economic and institutional . (greater social equity, cohesion, peace/stability, well-being). Land is not just a resource to be exploited, but a crucial vehicle for achieving better socio-economic, biological and physical environments. Concretely, paying attention to the multiple functions of agriculture and land use, all economic, social and environmental functions of agriculture, at various levels, are recognized and included in decision-making to promote synergies between these functions and reconcile the different objectives of the interested parts. 🇧🇷

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Likewise, if we are to fairly assess the relative productivity of small and large farms, we must discard "yield" as our measuring tool. Yield means the yield per unit area of ​​a single crop, such as "metric tons of corn per hectare". Often, the greatest yield from a single crop can be obtained by planting it alone in a single field, in a monoculture, which no longer produces anything useful to the farmer. Bare soil between rows of crops, an ecologically empty "niche space," invites weed infestation. The presence of weeds makes the farmer invest manpower in weeding or capital in herbicides.

Large farmers tend to plant monocultures because they are easier to handle with heavy machinery. Smallholder farmers, on the other hand, especially in the Third World, are much more likely to plant mixed crops (intercrops) where empty niche space that would otherwise produce weeds is occupied by other crops. They also tend to combine or rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility. These integrated farming systems produce much more per unit area than monocultures. Total production per unit area, often made up of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be much, much higher. Therefore, if we are going to compare small and large farms, we must use total production rather than yield. While yield almost always came from the bottom line for larger farms, total production allows us to see the true productivity advantage of small farms. In all cases of data examined, relatively small farms are much more productive per unit area (2 to 10 times more productive) than larger ones. There are a variety of explanations for the higher productivity of smallholdings in the Third World, including: multiple cropping; land use intensity; output composition; irrigation; quality of work; work intensity; use of inputs; and resource use.

While small farms are clearly more productive than large farms, it is often argued that large farms are even more efficient. To begin with, this depends on the chosen definition of efficiency. Small farms make more efficient use of the land. Large farms generally have higher labor productivity due to mechanization, so they can be considered more efficient in the use of labor. The most widely accepted definition of efficiency among economists is "total factor productivity," a kind of average efficiency of use of all the different factors that go into production, including land, labor, inputs, and more. , capital, etc. Tomich et al. (1993) provide data from the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s showing that small farms have higher total factor productivity than large farms in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. In industrialized countries like the United States, the pattern is less clear. The consensus position is probably that very small farms are inefficient because they cannot make full use of expensive equipment, while very large farms are also inefficient because of the administrative and labor problems inherent in large operations. Therefore, maximum efficiency is likely to be achieved on medium-sized farms that have one or two contract workers.

Here in the United States, the question was posed more than half a century ago: what does the growth of large-scale industrial agriculture mean for cities and rural communities? Walter Goldschmidt's classic 1940 study of California's San Joaquin Valley compared areas dominated by large corporate farms with those still characterized by small family farms. In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns have disappeared. Mechanization meant that fewer local people were employed and absentee property meant that peasant families were nowhere to be found. Income earned from agriculture is diverted to larger cities to support distant businesses, while in cities surrounded by family farms, income circulates among local businesses, generating jobs and prosperity for the community. Where family farms dominated, there were more local businesses, paved streets and sidewalks, schools, parks, churches, clubs and newspapers, better services, more jobs, and more civic participation. Studies since Goldschmidt's original work confirm that his discoveries are still true today.

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The benefits of smallholdings go beyond the economic sphere. While large industrial-style farms impose a scorched-earth mentality on resource management (no trees, no wildlife, endless monocultures), small farmers can be very effective stewards of natural resources and soil. To begin with, smallholder farmers use a wide range of resources and have an interest in their sustainability. At the same time, their farming systems are diverse, incorporating and preserving important functional biodiversity within the farm. By preserving biodiversity, open space and trees and reducing land degradation, small farms provide valuable ecosystem services to society at large.

If we are concerned with food production, small properties are more productive. If efficiency is our concern, they are more efficient. If our concern is poverty, land reform to create a small farming economy offers a clear solution. The smallholding model is also the surest path to broad-based economic development. Whether we are concerned about the loss of biodiversity or the sustainability of agriculture, small farms provide a crucial part of the solution.

Trade liberalization, the movement towards global free trade policies, poses a serious threat to the continued existence of small farms around the world. Over the past two decades, Third World countries have been encouraged, persuaded, threatened and generally pressured to unilaterally reduce the level of protection offered to their domestic food producers by well-financed foreign competitors. At first glance, this might sound like a good thing. After all, more food imports could make food cheaper in poor and hungry countries and thus make it easier for the poor to get enough to eat. However, the experiences of many countries suggest that there are drawbacks to these policies that may outweigh the potential benefits.

First, a sudden drop in agricultural prices can drive already poor and indebted farmers off the land in the short term. Second, a more subtle effect is activated. As crop prices remain low in the medium term, profits per unit area (per acre) also remain low. This means that it increases the minimum number of hectares needed to support a family, contributing to the abandonment of agricultural land by smaller and poorer farmers, land that ends up in the hands of larger and better-off farmers. price environment by virtue of having many hectares. They overcome the low profit per acre trap precisely by owning vast areas that add up to good total profits, even if they represent very little per acre. The end result of both mechanisms is a greater concentration of agricultural land in the ever-diminishing hands of large farmers.

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Agriculture produces not just commodities, but also means of subsistence, cultures, ecological services, etc. and, as such, agricultural products cannot be treated in the same way as other bens. While a shoe, for example, is a relatively simple good whose world price can be set by supply and demand, and whose trade can be regulated through tariffs or deregulated by removing them, the same is not true of agriculture, whose functions are very long. more complex.

Agriculture not only produces/supplies agricultural products, but also contributes to food security, by reducing the risks caused by unforeseen events or possible food shortages in the future, to the preservation of the territory and the environment, to the creation of a good landscape and the maintenance of the local community, through productive activities in harmony with the natural environment. All these roles are known as the "multifunctionality" of agriculture. As an expert in small-scale agricultural production, I fully support this point of view. Ignoring the multiple functions of agriculture has caused untold suffering and ecological destruction in the past. The time has come to recognize the full range of contributions that agriculture, and small farms in particular, make to human societies and the biosphere. Farms are not factories that produce tennis shoes or tennis rackets, and we cannot allow narrow arguments of simple economic convenience to destroy this legacy of all humanity.

doctor Peter M. Rosset, the author, is Executive Director, Food First, The Institute for Food and Development PoliX-Mozilla-Status: 0009 This article is an abstract of a policy brief prepared for "Cultivating Our Futures", FAO / Netherlands Conference on the multifunctional character of agriculture and the land, 12-17 September 1999, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


What are the benefits of a small farm? ›

Importance of Family and Small Farms

Not only do they support the competitiveness and sustainability of rural and farm economies, they serve to: Protect and enhance natural resources and the environment. Provide a nursery for the development of new enterprises and marketing systems. Maintain rural populations.

What is the impact of small-scale farming? ›

By growing heirloom and other non-commercial varieties, small farms bolster biodiversity and increase food security. With only 12 plants and five animal species making up 75 percent of what the world eats, food systems are vulnerable to natural disasters and disease outbreak.

Is small-scale farming better for the environment? ›

This study finds that smaller farms have higher yields and biodiversity than larger ones but little difference in greenhouse gas emissions and profits.

What are 3 benefits of farming? ›

Here are ten reasons why agriculture is important:
  • #1. It's the main source of raw materials.
  • #2. It's important to international trade.
  • #3. It plays a big role in a nation's revenue.
  • #4. It provides employment.
  • #5. It's crucial to a country's development.
  • #6. It can help heal the environment.
  • #7. ...
  • #8.
Nov 9, 2019

What are the pros and cons of small scale farming? ›

They are generally associated with more sustainable farming practices. Small farms are agile competitors that are better able than larger rivals to meet shifts in demand and grow specialized varieties of fruit and vegetables. On the downside, they are less efficient and not as financially sound as big growers.

What are the three biggest benefits of sustainable farming? ›

Importance of Sustainable Agriculture
  • Production of sufficient human food, feed, fiber, and fuel to meet the needs of a sharply rising population.
  • Protection of the environment and expansion of the natural resources supply.
  • Sustainment of the economic viability of agriculture systems.

What are the 10 benefits of sustainable development? ›

  • Safe, healthy, quality working lives for our people.
  • Products that accelerate more sustainable lifestyles.
  • Products that create sustainable infrastructure.
  • Efficient use of resources and high recycling rates.
  • Trusted user of air, land and water.
  • Responsible energy user that helps create a lower carbon future.

What are the three major benefits of sustainable development? ›

The three advantages of sustainable development are as follows: It helps in ensuring a better life for present and future generations. Lowers the impact on the environment by reducing air, water, and soil pollution. Helps in achieving long-term economic growth.

Why is small scale important? ›

In a country like India, the small scale industries play a very important role in generating employment, improving the financial status of people, development of rural areas and removing the regional imbalances.

Why are small farms more productive? ›

Traditionally, in developing countries including India, smaller farms have been associated with greater productivity. This is because it is often perceived that less land allows farmers to use more inputs (such as fertilizer), use the land more intensely (by planting more crops) and adopt more technology.

How are small farms more sustainable? ›

Small, family-owned farms regularly achieve higher and more dependable production from their land than large farms operating in a similar environment. The highest yields of a single crop are typically produced in monocultures such as we have seen since the Green Revolution of the 1960s.

Are small farms more efficient than large farms? ›

Net value and efficiency indicators show that larger farms tend to be more performant than smallholders, while the simpler but ubiquitous gross output indicators support an inverse relationship (IR).

How do small scale farmers improve? ›

Options include improving nutrient, energy, water and land use efficiency; improving the understanding of soil-plant-water dynamics; increasing farm diversification; supporting agroecological systems, and enhancing biodiversity conservation and use at both field and landscape scales; promoting the sustainable ...

Does small scale farming contribute to the economy? ›

Productivity increases in small farms contribute towards growth not only by reducing the price of staple food, but also by increasing the demand for labour in rural areas, generating jobs for the poor and raising the unskilled labour wage rate.

What are 2 benefits of farming? ›

The basic needs for human survival; food, shelter, and clothing, are all dependent on agriculture for their production. Raw materials such as crops for food, silk for cloth, and wood for shelter, all come from agriculture.

What are the benefits of local farming? ›

Locally grown food creates important economic opportunities, provides health benefits and helps to reduce environmental impact. It also helps bring the community together and gives people the opportunity to make a difference. Additionally, many people feel local food tastes better and lasts longer.

What are social benefits of farming? ›

– social farming is able to increase participants' self-esteem and sense of usefulness, and improve their skills and employability. In terms of employment, providers of social farming initiatives can benefit from social farming to the extent that they gain access to higher returns and new networks.

What is farming on a small scale? ›

Small-scale agriculture is a method of agriculture that uses less machinery and more human labour. Ph: Luke McKernan. Local, small-scale farming operations typically utilize more sustainable methods than conventional industrial farming systems to maintain soil productivity and control pests.

What defines a small scale farm? ›

USDA defines a small farm as an operation with gross cash farm income under $250,000. Within that group are commercial and noncommercial farms. The number of small commercial farms – with sales of $10,000 to $250,000 – actually fell between 2002 and 2007.

What are the 10 advantages of agriculture? ›

Top 25 Advantages of Agriculture
  • Food for Human beings: It provides food that can be consumed by human beings. ...
  • Food for Animals: Animals also feed on food grown through agriculture for instance hay, fodder, silage and more.
  • Source of Livelihood: Many people spend their lives engaging in agriculture.
Jul 12, 2016

What are the two major benefits of sustainable development? ›

Socially, sustainable practices can help strengthen community bonds, improve quality of life and provide hope for a better future. Environmentally, sustainable practices can help protect natural resources, mitigate and adapt to climate change and promote biodiversity.

What is the importance and benefits of sustainable agriculture? ›

It not only embraces less energy intensive tools of agricultural production but also adopts smart farming systems. By eliminating the use of fossil fuels and reducing energy use, sustainable farming helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thereby playing a significant role in combating climate change.

What are the benefits of a sustainable community? ›

Benefits of following sustainability principles include more livable communities, lower costs and a safe, healthy environment. cost savings by eliminating waste, enhancing resource and human productivity, and harnessing the economic benefits of innovation (e.g., sustainable business practices).

What is one of the main sustainability benefits? ›

Societal Impact

By implementing changes, you will have a smaller carbon footprint and reduce the number of toxins released into the atmosphere. Future generations ultimately benefit from improved air and water quality, fewer landfills and more renewable energy sources.

What are the benefits of a sustainable environment? ›

There are both environmental and financial benefits for installing renewable energy like solar for your home or business.
  • No emissions.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Stabilizes energy costs over time.
  • Adds value to your property.
  • Reduces your electric bill.
  • Leverages financial incentives and tax credits.

What are some benefits of sustainable economic growth? ›

The benefits of Sustainable Economic Development impact more than just those in poverty. For example, reducing energy use and expanding public transit options leads to less air pollution, which can improve asthma and heart conditions. Efficient homes and businesses will be more comfortable and safer.

What are the benefits of sustainable development give examples? ›

To help you remember, here's a list of the advantages we shared:
  • Promote Progress And Growth.
  • Improved Quality Of Life.
  • Caring For The Environment.
  • Self-sustaining Economies.
  • Reduced Costs.
  • Increased Productivity.

Which type of farming is sustainable? ›

Agroforestry is a farming method which involves growing shrubs and trees among other plants and vegetables. It combines forestry and agricultural practices to guarantee a sustainable and highly productive approach to land use.

What is small scale short answer? ›

Small scale refers to world maps or maps of large regions such as continents or large nations. In other words, they show large areas of land on a small space. They are called small scale because the representative fraction is relatively small.

What are the 8 advantages of small businesses? ›

Advantages of Small-Business Ownership
  • Independence. Entrepreneurs are their own bosses. ...
  • Financial gain. Entrepreneurship offers a greater possibility of achieving significant financial rewards than working for someone else. ...
  • Control. ...
  • Prestige. ...
  • Equity. ...
  • Opportunity.

What are the benefits of scale? ›

One of the biggest advantages of scales on a fish is protection. It provides protection from predators, parasites and even the environment. A reptile's thick, thorny scales can help defend it from predators. Scales can make it harder for predators to bite or attack their prey, and they can even hurt them.

Which farming is most productive? ›

Complete answer:

The plains are the most productive farming areas.

What are two characteristics of small scale farming? ›

Characteristics of small-scale agriculture at subsistence level
  • Most of the labour is provided by family members and is manual in nature.
  • Farmers use very simple tools such as hoes and to cultivate, in some cases ploughs are used.
  • Farmers use organic manure to improve fertility.

Do you agree that small farms are usually more productive than larger ones? ›

Yes. Our research shows that many small farms produce more output per unit of land (high yield) than larger farms—but they achieve that not because they are more productive, but by using more labour and other inputs. This implies that their production costs are higher.

What differentiates a small farm from a large farm? ›

Acreage is another way to assess farm size. According to the USDA , small family farms average 231 acres; large family farms average 1,421 acres and the very large farm average acreage is 2,086.

Are small farms struggling? ›

The USDA report also shows that smaller farms are becoming increasingly fragile economically. The report quantified farms in terms of the financial risk they took on every year.

Why small farmers are key to the future of food? ›

In addition to being the best hope for increasing land productivity and crop diversity to feed an ever-growing world, small-scale farmers create jobs and wealth for their communities and can contribute to a more stable society.

Can small-scale farming feed the world? ›

Small-Scale Farming Can (and Does) Feed the World

📌 Today, that's still the case: small-scale farms produce 51% of the world's food. So the question of whether small-scale farming can feed the world has a short answer: yes.

Are small farms better? ›

By preserving biodiversity, open space and trees, and by reducing land degradation, small farms provide valuable ecosystem services to the larger society. If we are concerned about food production, small farms are more productive. If our concern is efficiency, they are more efficient.

What are the benefits of being a farm? ›

Benefits of working as a farmer
  • Ability to work outside: Farmers spend most of their workday outside. ...
  • Increased activity: Farming requires a lot of physical exercise and activity. ...
  • Improved well-being: Being outside and performing physical activity could help improve your well-being.
Mar 29, 2021

What is the benefit of living on a farm? ›

Farm Life Equals Freedom

Living on a farm property usually means you don't have to deal with pesky homeowners association rules or apartment regulations. You can paint your home or barn any color you want. You can plant fruits and vegetables in your front yard, back yard, or even your roof!

Are small farms better than large farms? ›

Results. Our analysis finds that smaller farms have higher yields and harbour greater crop diversity and higher levels of non-crop biodiversity at the field and landscape scales than larger farms (Table 1).

What makes a small farm? ›

USDA defines a small farm as an operation with gross cash farm income under $250,000. Within that group are commercial and noncommercial farms. The number of small commercial farms – with sales of $10,000 to $250,000 – actually fell between 2002 and 2007.

What is farming Why is it important? ›

Definition: Agriculture is generally known as Farming; it is an art and science that prudent endeavor to reshape a part of Earth's crust through cultivation of plants and other crops as well as raising livestock for sustenance or other necessities for human being and economic gain.

Why are small farms sustainable? ›

Small farms are also better at conserving the natural resource base than larger farms. For example, in the U.S., small farms preserve 17% of the land as natural forest, compared to only 5% on large farms. What's more, they devote more than twice as much of their land to soil-improving practices.

What are the positive effects of farmland? ›

Benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions, minimal transportation requirements, and reduced energy use for food production. As the benefits are becoming more and more acknowledged, the trend of urban farming is starting to become quite popular.

Can you make a living on a small farm? ›

If you are not willing to put in that kind of intensive management work and focus on return-on-investment, you can still make a living on your farm, but you'll likely still need some off-farm income. Despite popular thinking, farming can be enormously profitable.

Can you survive on a small farm? ›

You need to be part business person and part farmer to make a living in this field. However, it is possible to make a living with a small farm operation, but it's not an easy life. There are many things to consider before embarking on this back to the basics lifestyle.


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(Down On The Farm)


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